Think Unlimited: Solutionaries

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Think Unlimited: Solutionaries : Equipping and Empowering Arab Youth to Think Up the Future

JordanAmman , Jordan
Year Founded:
2011
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
Growth
Budget: 
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Think Unlimited is reimagining learning in the Arab world by turning classrooms dominated by rote memorization into transformative environments that give birth to "Solutionaries," individuals equipped and empowered to solve their nations' most pressing problems through social innovation.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if transformative learning experiences could turn protestors into innovators? What if Arab youth could lead the way forward by introducing
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The Middle East is struggling to meet the educational and economic needs of an unprecedented and growing youth bulge. 66% of the Arab world is under 30. Job markets can’t keep pace, and outmoded education systems leave youth unprepared for work and citizenship. This reality has pushed youth into the streets in protest, but protest has not resulted in the deep and lasting change badly needed by a generation—and a region—facing an uncertain future.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Solutionaries is a university course that builds achievement motivation, creativity, critical thinking, and entrepreneurship skills, and encourages young people to apply those skills through social innovation. Our unique, culturally-tailored curriculum uses games, activities and interactive discussions to inspire as much as educate. The Solutionaries course is often the first experience our students have had with learning that is fun, relevant, and driven by their own passions and interests. It is a transformative experience for young people, who enter as traditional students and leave as Solutionaries—equipped and empowered citizens who will introduce innovative solutions that can drive lasting change in the Arab world.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

“I used to be really shy about my passion, photography, because my family didn’t support me, and told me that my degree is much more important. Before I took this course I bought a camera, but wasn’t really using it. Through this course I actually started to take pictures and show them to my family, and talk to them about the topics we are learning. Everyone was impressed, and started to encourage me to continue with my passion. Through this course I discovered that something inside of me wants to do something to change things around me. I started to know how to use my abilities, and even how to use my time and education to do something useful. For me my new goal is to follow my passion, and never give up.” –Sanabeel, Solutionaries Student

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Through Solutionaries students learn transferrable innovation skills never before taught in Jordanian universities including root cause analysis, divergent thinking, and human-centered design. But before introducing new skills we spend an entire semester doing activities that develop the attributes that are proven prerequisites of successful innovation. Spending classroom time in a for-credit course helping students find their passion, overcome fear, develop grit and a growth mindset, and understand the power of empathy in problem solving is unique in Jordan and helps reimagine the scope of traditional learning. This creates lasting impact on students by changing their understanding of themselves, the learning process, and the role of education in their lives. It also creates impact in the universities, by modeling a different approach to education that promotes achievement motivation.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We are piloting Solutionaries with 120 students in 2 Jordanian universities, and are poised to have a game-changing impact on youth throughout the Middle East as we take the program to scale. In the 2014/15 academic year we will more than double our impact by adding two new university partners and increasing the number of sections at each university. By 2016 we plan to begin partnering with universities outside Jordan. By 2020 we expect to be implementing this course in all 42 universities in Jordan, and by 2025 we hope to be offering this course in universities across the entire MENA region.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Solutionaries generates revenue by asking partner universities to split with Think Unlimited the tuition fees of each student enrolled in our course. Currently, this covers approximately 30% of our operating costs and we expect this to rise to 40% in the coming years. The remainder of our costs are funded by foundation grants.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The Arab world has a growing culture of entrepreneurship, but the focus is almost entirely on business. Think Unlimited is fostering entrepreneurship that creates social impact, still a new concept in this part of the world. Initiatives that do support social innovation specifically (Ashoka, Synergos, and IYF’s Badir Initiative) do so by identifying successful innovators and supporting existing ideas and initiatives. By contrast, Solutionaries is working on the “supply side,” attempting to change learning environments in order to create a culture of innovation, and thereby more innovators.
Team

Founding Story

As a volunteer teacher in Jordan, time and again I watched my students grapple with their lack of opportunity and voice as they became more connected to the globalized, democratizing world. I also watched them come to believe, as they progressed through an outdated school system intent upon crushing their creativity, that studying wouldn’t get them any closer to their dreams. One by one I watched them give up on education. Think Unlimited has been my attempt to reimagine learning in the context of the Arab world, and to help Arab youth—a powerful force for progress and change—experience the transformative power of education, and develop skills and inspiration to lay hold upon their dreams and make them a reality.

Team

Our Solutionaries team consists of 8 Facilitators. We employ a youth-to-youth teaching model, bringing outstanding Arab young people to Jordan for intensive training in our unique approach to learning. They work as visiting lecturers in our partner universities. In addition we employ 2 Executive Directors, a Team Mgr, a Program Coordinator, an Ops Mgr, a Chapter Network Coordinator, and an Admin Assistant. We also have a 7-person volunteer Board.
About You
About You
First Name

Shaylyn

Last Name

Garrett

About Your Project
Organization Name
How long has your organization been operating?

Project
Organization Country

, Amman

Country where this project is creating social impact
What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Individuals, Foundations, Customers.

Supplemental
Awards

Draper Richards Kaplan Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurship
Clinton Global Initiative Complimentary Membership, 2012 and 2013
Echoing Green Competition Finalist 2012

Primary Target Age Group

18 - 35.

Your role in Education

Administrator, Teacher.

Please specify which of the following best applies:

I am applying on behalf of a particular program or initiative.

The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with (if applicable)

Other.

Intervention Focus

Curricular, Extracurricular.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Actively Designing Space & Culture as Essential Elements for Learning: Creating cost-effective methods to infuse a school with habits, language, and materials needed for learning through play.

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

One size fits all fits none: Students are disengaged and not being prepared for "real life."

Need

Creation of interactive media to communicate key aspects of our curriculum through images and videos

Offer

Curricular resources for teaching innovation through play

What key learning outcomes does your work seek to improve?

Our Solutionaries course equips and empowers Arab youth to become individuals who identify, understand, and work to solve the world's most pressing problems. The core competencies of a Solutionary are critical thinking, creativity, and innovation. In addition to cognitive skills, our course teaches and cultivates in young people the "attributes of an innovator," including passion, personal responsibility, empathy, grit, and "growth mindset."

Secondary Form
PROGRAM DESIGN CLARITY: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Please succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

Solutionaries is a credit-bearing course teaching social innovation through games, activities, reflection, and real-world projects. The course is taught in universities to groups of 20 students in two 75-minute sessions/week, 60 sessions over 2 semesters, resulting in 75+ hours of transformative learning. Who facilitates? Arab diaspora youth who have experienced the life-changing power of education and act as teachers in a groundbreaking peer-to-peer learning model. We recruit, train, and bring them to Jordan for a year of service on the frontlines of development in the Arab world.

INSPIRATION: What do you consider the most important trends or evidence that inspire you to believe the world is ready to Re-imagine Learning? Please elaborate.

Solutionaries course content is 100% evidence-based, drawing on cutting-edge theories like neuroplasticity and the groundbreaking work of researchers such as Carol Dweck, Angela Duckworth, Martin Seligman, Ken Robinson, and James Kaufman. Every day new knowledge emerges about cultivating student potential and the role of challenge, grit, divergent thinking, and mindset in teaching creativity, critical thinking, and innovative problem solving. As education systems fail to prepare students for an uncertain future, the time is now to apply evidence-based theories to transform learning worldwide!

LEARNING THROUGH PLAY: What does “learning through play” mean to you and why it is a must-have, instead of a nice to have?

Learning through play means learning by doing. Through Solutionaries, our students experience—often for the first time—inductive learning. They do an activity, then identify what they’ve learned through reflection. This is a powerful way to motivate and build capacity for lifelong learning. Learning through play also means developing essential creative capacities. Play not only gives students fun experiences, it literally re-wires their brains for innovation by strengthening the neural pathways associated with divergent thinking, creative problem solving, and “making friends with failure.”

SUSTAINABILITY: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating the percentage that comes from each source.

The following are projections for the 2014/15 academic year:

Revenue from University Partners: $80,000
Foundation Funding: $200,000
Government Grants: $150,000
Major Gifts: $70,000
Individual (online) Donors: $20,000
TOTAL: $520,000

MODEL: How does your mission relate to your business model (i.e. Non-profit, for-profit or hybrid)?

We are a nonprofit organization, funded largely through donations. However, a major part of our mission is to change the way that education is perceived and achieved in the Arab world, which is why we ask our university partners to invest in bringing critical and creative thinking education to their institution by paying Think Unlimited for the course. On average, universities pay us 50% of the tuition fees of students enrolled in Solutionaries.

FUNDING PRIORITIES: If your organization were given $20K in unrestricted funding today, how would you use it? Why?

We would increase our impact by taking Solutionaries to an additional partner university—$20K would cover about a third of this cost. Having invested heavily in R&D and completed a successful pilot in Spring, 2014, we are poised to have a transformative impact by taking this program to scale.

PARTNERSHIPS: Tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

Zarqa University, American University of Madaba, German Jordanian University, and Petra University are our implementing partners in Jordan, each of whom, by partnering with Think Unlimited, is bringing student-centered, project-based learning to their campuses for the first time. We also partner with the Jordanian Ministry of Culture to promote creativity and innovation inside and outside of the classroom.

COLLABORATIONS: Have you considered or initiated partnerships with any of the other Challenge Pacesetters? If so, please share.

We have considered contacting organizations that have also developed original curricula for issue-centered experiential learning—particularly those who are working in countries with an authoritarian governmental and/or cultural environment—to get ideas for enhancing our course content.

VISION: If you had unlimited funding, and you could fast forward 15 years to when your program has been able to achieve wild success - what will it have achieved?

Solutionaries would be offered in all 42 Jordanian universities and across the MENA region, providing transformative learning experiences to thousands of youth. Our university partners would also be transforming their own classrooms from one-way lecture and rote memorization to interactive, experiential learning. We hope to see our program graduates leading change, showing by example that re-imagining learning leads to re-imagined societies.

IMPACT - KEY METRICS: Please list the key data points that you would cite as evidence that you are able to achieve lasting learning outcomes. Please also share one data point for which you most hope to see better results over time

1.Significant movement from Fixed to Growth Mindset (as shown through behavioral measures, not just self-report)
2.Improved performance on Divergent Thinking tasks
3.Improved outcomes on measures of Empathy and Grit

Success to us is when students put learning to work in their communities. We hope to see more program grads successfully implementing innovative ideas and initiatives in order to change their societies for the better.

IMPACT - REPORTING SAMPLE: Please attach any examples of your impact reporting. [optional]:
RESEARCH AND EVIDENCE: Please link or attach any research or evidence resource you are open to sharing more widely [optional]. Building research and evidence is a key aim of this initiative, and the resources you share may be chosen for listing in the Center for Education Innovations library:
SOURCE: If applicable - who created the research or evidence you are choosing to share? :
IMPACT - REACH: How many people did your project directly engage in programmatic activities in the last year?

0 to 500

STUDY: Has an external evaluation or study been conducted of your organization?

Other (please specify)

Other (please specify)

We use impact measures designed by external experts, but we administer them ourselves.

Number of Employees:

10-100

Number of Volunteers:

Fewer than 10

APPROACHES: Given the complexity of play, it is not surprising that there have been numerous research attempts to categorize the different types and approaches! Please indicate which of the following your project focuses on.

Games with Rules, Creating a Supportive Socio-Emotional Environment, Educational Structuring (developing playful projects within educational contexts), Challenging Play (play that disrupts - where rules are disregarded and levels of imagination are high).

Other (please specify)
AFFILIATION: Please specify if your organization has any existing affiliations with the LEGO Group.

None.

Comments

Grant Hosford's picture

I think this is a fantastic program and would love to see it eventually pushed down to the High School level. It's great that local citizens are being trained.

I LOVE Think Unlimited! I LOVE this video!

Shaylyn Romney Garrett's picture

We actually used to work with High School students and transitioned out of that age group and into university students, largely because of the national exams system, which tends to reverse all of the incentives we create for students to take a more open-ended approach to learning. Working with them when that major hurdle is behind them tends to be more effective because they're more open to embracing the concepts and putting them into practice more fully. Thanks for your comment!

Bernhard Hofer's picture

Wonderful project, congratulations. It's great that you generate your own revenue and I hope to see you scale throughout the region! All the best and greetings from Austria :)

Jeff Nelder's picture

It's a powerful way that you lead into your program by coining terms and phrases like 'Solutioinaries' and "Think Up the Future." The key learning outcomes that follow deliver on the potential that you've sparked in our imaginations from the start.

What pops for me:
1) Innovation in the P2P learning model. It's the manifestation of a learning community!
2) Learning by doing is built in.
3) Resilience is an outcome, leading to a more innovative mindset.
4) The inspiration is solidly based on analogous experimentation and activity.
5) Sustainability potential is strong with a clear model that combines revenue and funding tightly tied to the model.
6) Highly tailored to the specific needs of a community.
7) Relevant key metrics
8) I appreciate that the entrepreneurship dimension is tied to social entrepreneurship and impact.

Powerful thinking and articulation and an incredibly high potential impact if this is allowed a broad roll out.

randomness